Most are unaware that since co-authoring the book, Erasing Hell with Francis Chan* (chiefly a rebuttal to Love Wins), Dr. Preston Sprinkle has publicly disclosed his struggle with the “eternal conscious torment” doctrine and has confessed his strong leanings toward Conditional Immortality or annihilationism as a more Biblical view. His recent thoughts on the subject can be found at the site “Rethinking Hell”:
Here are a few snippets from an interview with Chris Date of RethinkingHell.com:
Dr. Sprinkle: “…honestly I got so annoyed and frustrated at all the books and articles that were supporting the Traditionalist view, it irritated me to no end. It just seemed very, and I’m definitely not going to name any names, very heartless. They were ranting and raving, almost like they were angry about people who disagreed with their view. And I was like, ‘We’re talking about souls here. Do you realize we’re talking about real people here?!’ It angered me because these are Evangelicals writers who are talking about what they think as a doctrine. This ain’t no doctrine, either this is real or its not. And if it’s real then we need to study this with tears and agony…whichever view…because either view is miserable.”
Preston Sprinkle here admits that either view, whether it be “eternal conscious torment” or that of God fully destroying those who do not find salvation in Jesus, “is miserable.” (Sadly this message is what we have been told is the “Good News.”)
While we commend the movement away from the “eternal conscious torment” doctrine toward a more humane paradigm of ending the life of the unrepentant instead of eternally torturing them, we do not believe it lines up with the character of God as revealed in the Scripture. To read further why we believe the Bible does not support the annihilation view please check out this article.
The conversation then uncovers some false assumptions regarding the Jewish mindset regarding “eternity,” the word “aeonios” and several other hot topics in the debate:
Chris Date: “… Traditionalist authors sometime claim that 1st century Jews were sort of monolithic in their belief in eternal torment, but as you mentioned or sort of hinted at a couple of times here that’s not what you found in your research, is it?”
Dr. Preston Sprinkle: “Not at all, no. I could give you specific references in Jewish documents that are very clearly Annihilationists. In fact that logic shows that whoever said that doesn’t know anything about Judaism because a lot of Jews didn’t have a firm belief in an everlasting afterlife at all.”
Chris presses further to clarify that Dr. Sprinkle has indeed changed his view since co-authoring Erasing Hell:
Chris Date: “…before the book and when the book was published, like Chan, you leaned towards the traditional view. I don’t get the impression that’s the case any longer. So where do you find yourself now and what since the publishing of Erasing Hell has gotten you there?”
Dr. Preston Sprinkle: “Yeah I would say…I would lean towards annihilation now…But I’m not one to hide what I believe. Again going back to my college, one of the blessings of working at a school like that is that…there’s no like weird doctrinal statement that threatens my job at all…[It’s]Be biblical, love Jesus, preach the Gospel, and we’ll keep you on here. So there’s no threat from my church, or from family, or from anyone…there’s nothing like that that’s pressuring me to hold on to a traditional view. I’m kind of a slow thinker in a sense that I don’t mind taking a few years to really work through something before I ultimately land. So going back to your question I would say I lean towards annihilation.”
I am not sure if readers of Erasing Hell clued in to a very definitive summary statement by Chan and Sprinkle in their book. It was easy to miss if you were looking to the book to support your already assumed view of an eternal hell. But Chan and Sprinkle stated clearly that the bottom line was that after all their prayer and study they remained unsure as to the duration and nature of hell and advised us to not make any assumptions until we have studied further. I realize that statement was made within a book that for the most part appeared to be making a VERY dogmatic case for eternal conscious torment but Dr. Sprinkle’s recent admission now gives a lot more credence to their advice on page 86:
“The debate about hell’s duration is much more complex than I first assumed. While I lean heavily on the side that says it is everlasting, I am not ready to claim that with complete certainty. I encourage you to continue researching…”
For Sprinkle at least, he would have to change that statement to say he is leaning more heavily towards Conditional Immortality these days. We are thankful for his transparency and honesty regarding his new thoughts on this issue. Even more so we deeply appreciate how he reminds us that this is not about a doctrine but about precious human beings who are made in God’s image. Yes, we had better decide if this is real…as Dr. Sprinkle reminded us, “it’s real people we are talking about.”
*Note: In the interview Dr. Sprinkle explains how he himself did the majority of the research for Erasing Hell as Chan shared that he did not have the time to write a book at that particular time.